Proving it’s possible to have not just two but three acts in the business there’s no business like, Canadian impresario Garth Drabinsky announced today that he’s coming back to Broadway next fall, following an unanticipated 15-year hiatus. His production of a new musical based on the novel behind the 1988 Shirley MacLaine vehicle Madame Sousatzka will shake down at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre from February 25 through April 9, 2017 before coming to New York next October at a theater to be announced.
The catch is that if and when the show opens on Broadway, Drabinsky isn’t likely to be in the audience. He’s a fugitive from U.S. justice, following the 1998 collapse of Livent, the over-leveraged company he pulled from the ashes of his first failed business, Cineplex Odeon, and then drove into bankruptcy.
While mounting shows and building an empire that included turning adjacent Times Square houses into what is today known as the Lyric Theatre, Drabinsky and his partner Myron Gottlieb crafted uniquely unorthodox accounting methods that involved multiple sets of books and phony annual reports. They inveigled Michael Ovitz into putting $20 million into their capsizing showboat and stiffed countless ancillary businesses while coddling high-profile talent such as director Hal Prince and stars Elaine Stritch and Chita Rivera, making liberal use of a private jet to taxi favored folks between Times Square and Toronto.
Acclaimed for mounting serious works that included Prince’s celebrated revival of Show Boat and the new musicals Kiss Of The Spider Woman and Ragtime, Drabinsky and Gottlieb were convicted in 2009 of fraud and forgery. Drabinsky was sentenced to five years in prison and served 18 months before being released to a half-way house, and recently completed parole. He also was disbarred and stripped of his Order of Canada. The Ontario Securities Commission restricted Drabinsky from “owning or operating a business or being in a position of responsibility for the management of finances or investments for any other individual, charity, business or institution.” He has a February, 2017 date with the OSC to explain why those sanctions should be lifted. At one of his earlier parole hearings, he and Gottlieb actually argued that a judge should free them to teach college courses in how to avoid business fraud, redefining chutzpah.
Drabinsky continues to be under indictment by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and will have to face charges if he crosses the border. Nevertheless, an outfit called Teatro Proscenium Limited Partnership today announced “the world premiere of the Garth Drabinsky production of Sousatzka,” starring Tony Award winners Victoria Clark (The Light In The Piazza) and Judy Kaye (The Phantom Of The Opera), and Tony nominee Montego Glover (Memphis). The new musical has a book by Craig Lucas (An American In Paris) and score by Big and Baby team Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics) and David Shire (music). The director is former Royal Shakespeare Company chief Adrian Noble and the choreographer is 10-time Tony nominee Graciela Daniele.
Drabinsky is billed as “creative producer” and, according to a publicist, will have no hand in operating the show. A lengthy workshop in Toronto over the summer proved convincing enough to attract investors to the production, which is likely to come in in the $15-million range, which is the middle-of-the-road for mounting a new musical today.
“To be able to present this remarkable creative team, and cast, and the musical work of one of the best creative producers of our age, is a gift,” said Teatro Proscenium CEO Richard Stursberg. “My association with Garth has proven itself to be one of the most satisfying and enduring creative relationships I’ve ever had, and I look forward to ensuring that he has every resource available to get this inspired show to Broadway, and beyond.”
Based on the original novel Madame Sousatzka by Bernice Rubens, Sousatzka is set in London in 1982 and tells the story of a young musical prodigy (to be played in the show by Jordan Barrow) torn between two powerful women from vastly different worlds: his mother, a political refugee and his piano teacher, a brilliant eccentric with a shattered past. These two proud, iconoclastic women must ultimately cross cultural and racial divides to find common ground, or else put the boy’s destiny in jeopardy.
Sousatzka’s creative and design dream team includes Anthony Ward (sets), Paul Tazwell (costumes), Howell Binkley (lighting), Jonathan Driscoll (projections), Martin Levan (sound), Jonathan Tunick (orchestrations), David Caddick (music supervision), Brad Haak (music director), Lebo M. (additional music and vocal arrangements), and Marius de Vries (additional music arrangements).
“I no longer need to build empires,” Drabinsky told the Parole Board of Canada before being granted parole. “I no longer need to build public companies. I no longer need public acclaim of my accomplishments. I’ve sought a much more quiet life.” Of course, that was then, and this is now.